The Game of Kings

Author: Branwyn (Lady Branwyn)

Nominator: Raksha the Demon

2008 Award Category: Genres: Humor - Honorable Mention

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Other Ficlet

Rating: General  ✧  Reason for Rating: N/A

Summary: When the wind from the north rattled the shutters, the two rangers would sit by the fire for hours, hunched over a chessboard marked in black and white squares.

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Reviewed by: Raksha the Demon  ✧  Score: 10

What a great vignette, as cheerful as the hearth of the Prancing Pony, but with as much a hint of mystery as some of the "Pony"'s guests possess. As usual, Branwyn's narrative shines with descriptive details that enhance the scene without over-burdening it - the northern wind rattling the shutters, the Rangers' worn boots, Butterbur's marvelous thought that [This pastime seemed as amusing as watching the grass sprout on the Greenway], which conveys the substance of a modern real-life saying in language appropriate to Middle-earth. This vignette brings the reader right into the inn, and conveys the atmosphere of homey cheer, with the wonder of several races/groups co-existing in harmony - local people, dwarves, Shire hobbits, and the grim, enigmatic Rangers. Branwyn conveys the sense of much of Middle-earth encapsulated in the small provincial inn - the mysterious hard-traveling Rangers, the hobbits, the dwarves, the Men of Bree; all involved in one way or another with an old and sophisticated game that speaks of ancient power. And extra points for wonderful characterisation of Butterbur. The title [Game of Kings] seems to me to be a double-entendre - the Rangers themselves play a dangerous game, guarding a kingly bloodline out of danger while its posessor leads them through peril; and they find relief in chess, which is of course also the game of kings. Wonderfully atmospheric and evocative! And the last line is so marvelously appropriate!

Reviewed by: Imhiriel  ✧  Score: 7

I don't know if the expression makes much sense, but while reading this short ficlet, what sprang to my mind as the term to describe it was "melancholy whimsy". The scenes are described in a language both measured and charming. There is a sense of comfortableness and homeliness in it, of a community of diverse people coming together in friendship. Bree's extraordinary position as a town where so many different cultures live together or pass through in harmony is elicited very well. The use of Barliman as PoV was a good choice, because he is immersed in this cultural diversity without really realising it, he is part of it and yet is here more a neutral onlooker. He is both observant and oblivious to the undercurrents the readers know regarding the mystery around the Rangers, not knowing just how apt it is that they should be playing ["The Game of Kings"]. I liked how each of the spectators had to contribute something according to their own cultural origins, especially the Hobbit's idiosyncratic renaming of the chess pieces.

Reviewed by: Dwimordene  ✧  Score: 6

Branwyn's depiction of the intense chess matches at the Pony opens a whole world - one that even Barliman Butterbur isn't sure he quite understands. I love the way the Ranger chess games bring all Barliman's guests together, despite different rules for the game and different names for the pieces. Each of these variations reveals something about the different cultures, all of them brought together in an isolated townstead over a game held in common. The off-and-on again matches, taken up again just as abruptly as they are set aside by their vagabond players, take on a nicely ironic twist when it comes to the Rangers' name for chess: [the game of kings], which yields the priceless last line. Ranger fans and those who like seeing an underused character get the observer POV should definitely give this one a read!

Reviewed by: annmarwalk  ✧  Score: 5

A deliciously atmospheric piece, full of vivid description - one call almost smell the pipesmoke and hear the crackle of the fire. Barliman's voice is wonderfully characterized - not so much a comic buffoon as a man with too much already on his mind. Details like the dwarves' [long discussions about which moves were lawfu] and the hobbits' insistence on [using their own names for some of the pieces—thain for king and archer for knight] add an intriguing tang, almost a cosmopolitan touch to a backwater town. The foreshadowing (I'm not sure if that's the right word, but it's the only one I can think of at the moment) in the last few lines closes the tale with a slightly moody, disturbing note which is an excellent foil to a "homely" scene.

Reviewed by: Larner  ✧  Score: 4

Ah, but there is a lot that Barliman Butterbur doesn't know about certain recurring guests. He doesn't understand the games of Kings played by two of the Rangers who often come in together? Others seem interested enough. But to refer to it as [the Game of Kings]--well! The irony is well worked into the tale, and the manner in which other guests express their own interest or apply their own names and moves is well done as well. A nice, different look at how time might well have been spent by Strider and his companions when in Bree.

Reviewed by: Tanaqui  ✧  Score: 4

Again, Lady Branwyn has taken a common topic in Tolkien fanfic – a game of chess – and given it one of her trademark fresh and delightful twists. This short piece is about Rangers playing chess in the Prancing Pony, to the fascination of other patrons and the mystification of the innkeeper. An inventive ficlet in which we see wonderful glimpses of different cultures in each Race's approach to the game, and with a satisfying pay off in the final line. Bravo!

Reviewed by: Nancy Brooke  ✧  Score: 3

This is a great story! Well done! All the details - Barliman's observations of his business and his patrons - were perfect and charming, but never heavy or obvious. You hit all the marks here but made it read effortlessly. And the punch line, as it were, was amusing and provocative. Again, well done!

Reviewed by: Dreamflower  ✧  Score: 3

A very evocative vignette, I could just see the scene as it was set in the Prancing Pony. Barliman's POV was perfect--pragmatic, and only a little curious, about this strange game and the people who played it. The last line was utterly perfect.

Reviewed by: Virtuella  ✧  Score: 2

What a clever little ficlet this is, and every word fits just so! A game of kings indeed. Well done.

Reviewed by: nancylea  ✧  Score: 1

never got the game, but nice illusions